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12 year old insisting on reading war and peace

32 replies

theduchessstill · 23/02/2019 19:40

Ds1 has an obsession with history, especially German, Prussia, Russia. He is an able reader but I struggle to get him to read fiction. I've largely given up because he does read so it's up to him what he reads.

Since finding out about W&P and that many give up on it he really wants to read it. I'm not sure it's suitable, but I suppose there's no harm in him trying and the most likely outcome is he wouldn't get through it, but can anyone recommend anything along those lines he may like that would be more appropriate?

OP posts:
AndhowcouldIeverrefuse · 23/02/2019 19:55

War and peace is quite readable in terms of language and it's not particularly gruesome. He will get through it provided he can put up with the insufferable Pierre Bezukhov/ Count Tolstoy. Some passages are hopelessly woolly but that's the overrated Tolstoy for you. It might put him off historical fiction forever, or he might be a lifelong convert Grin

PRoseLegend · 23/02/2019 20:22

I was a precocious reader myself as a kid, often reading things WAY beyond my years. I didn't always understand the context.

On one hand, it's great that your son has an interest in reading and learning, but on the other hand you're worried about what he might be exposed to through reading adult books.
Have a look at the plot summary of War and Peace to determine whether you think it's appropriate, and encourage your son to talk to you about what he reads.

As for suggestions, I quite enjoyed the following historical fiction as a kid:

  • The Silver Sword (about 3 children escaping from Poland during Nazi occupation, and Russian occupation)


  • The Diary of Anne Frank (not fiction, but a real girl's diary during hiding out from Nazis).


  • The Book Thief (about a young girl in Germany during ww2, very moving).


  • Hitler's Daughter by Jackie French (who has a whole range of historical fiction your son might enjoy).


He might enjoy any of the Horrible Histories books about those countries or eras too.
Witchend · 23/02/2019 21:35

Ds is 11 and he is similarly fascinated with history, especially WWII and planes. He generally chooses fact books, but does enjoy a good historical fiction as long as it's accurate.


I'd let him, but say that he doesn't have to finish it if he gets bored.

Jenniferyellowcat · 11/03/2019 13:50

If he wants to read War and Peace these may not be up his street, and not sure how you feel about crime fiction, but the Berlin Noir crime books are supposed to be good reads and set in 30s/40s Germany.

www.amazon.co.uk/Berlin-Noir-Violets-Criminal-Requiem/dp/0241962358?tag=mumsnet&ascsubtag=mnforum-21

akkakk · 11/03/2019 13:57

There are loads of historical novels which might be more suitable (though W&P won't corrupt him!)

Cynthia Harnett can be tricky to find, though some libraries have them - fantastic historical children's books

Colonel Shepperton's Clock (and subsequent books) by Philip Turner

Ramage books / Hornblower / Bolitho - all well written books about naval historical times - Nelson etc.

then all the Philippa Gregory type books

PlayingForKittens · 11/03/2019 14:00

It's not really unsuitable in that it isn't full of overt sex and violence. He'll either read it and like it or start and put it down.

My dd tried Great Expectations at a young age because she wanted to emulate Matilda but she didn't get very far!

IWouldPreferNotTo · 11/03/2019 14:03

There is a graphic novel version of was and peace which is very good

eddiemairswife · 11/03/2019 14:04

I could have done with a map to go with War and Peace when I read it, not as a child I hasten to say. It might also help to explain to him that upper-class Russians spoke French at that time.

Tawdrylocalbrouhaha · 11/03/2019 14:05

I'd wish him luck and let him crack on with it. If he gets through it, great...but he will probably have to read it again as an adult to fully understand it.

BikeRunSki · 11/03/2019 14:06

I was about 13 when I read w&P. It’s bit difficult, just long. If there was anything terribly unsuitable, it must have gone straight over my head.

thenightsky · 11/03/2019 14:08

My DS also set out to tackle War and Peace around the age of 11 or 12. I'm not sure how far he got with it, or even if he finished it, but it appeared again on a family beach holiday last year - he is now 27. Grin

RiverTam · 11/03/2019 14:08

It's not unsuitable, no. Let him try - well, I mean, he's 12, I don't think my parents were involved in my reading matter at 12, really, he can read what he likes.

TheCountessofFitzdotterel · 11/03/2019 14:13

I would just leave him to it. I can't imagine a child who aspires to War and Peace is going to take very kindly to being offered Horrible Histories or Cynthia Harnett, wonderful as both those things are.
My 13yo dd started it but didn't get very far. It was free on Kindle though so who cares? My slightly older nephew finished it. Every time I saw him for months and months it was 'Read anything interesting lately?' 'nah, still reading War and Peace'. Which seemed a pity but it was kind of an achievement.

GeorgeTheBleeder · 11/03/2019 14:19

Appropriate? In what way? There's nothing inappropriate about War & Peace ... If the only 'danger' is that he might not finish it, what's the harm?

(Spoken as one who spent their early teens on Dostoyevsky, Turgenev, Sholokhov etc. Grin)

christinarossetti19 · 11/03/2019 14:21

The content isn't unsuitable for children - it's just quite long-winded!

The graphic novel is a good suggestion, or he might just want to plunge in to the text.

howabout · 11/03/2019 14:29

I would guess W&P is pretty much ideal reading material for a history / war interested 12 year old boy. He can do the opposite of what I did at 12 - skip through the social politics and drawing room scenes and read all the battlefield drama in detail. It even splits into bite size chunks that way. I think it is available free on-line.

If he gets the fat book bug he could move onto Proust for a bit of contrast. But if he wants good shorter Russian hard to beat Dostoyevsky (probably when he's a wee bit older though)

BlueMerchant · 11/03/2019 14:35

Sounds like he just wants to read it because he has heard others have given up on it -typical pre-teen. I'd give him something he could find easier and engage with- The Book thief is great.

GeorgeTheBleeder · 11/03/2019 15:15

Goodness BlueMerchant - what a negative attitude! I would have been utterly bemused (and deeply insulted) if someone had suggested to me at 12 that I should find something 'easier' to read!

wigglybeezer · 11/03/2019 15:23

I was a precocious reader who started on my parents bookshelf at about the IPs son's age, W&P would be far less unsuitable than John Updike's Rabbit books which I ended up reading, think I had to reread various pony books to recover!

FlaviaAlbia · 11/03/2019 15:27

I read it about that age and it was fine, though I remember skipping some bits. I've not read it again so maybe it was a mistake in that sense but it won't do him any harm...

InionEile · 11/03/2019 15:32

Let him read it, why not? Censorship rules of the time mean that any references to sex or other adult issues will be very oblique anyway.

I was an avid reader at 12 and read a lot of my older sister’s English textbooks - Othello, Merchant of Venice, Dickens, some Jane Austen - and a lot of the social / romance context went over my head. As a girl, I found the sexist comments about women the most difficult to deal with, to be honest e.g. comments about women being intellectually inferior to men. It would have been helpful to have had an adult explain the history to me of why women were treated so badly in the past. Otherwise, nothing problematic about it and probably better for him than the disturbing violent stuff in computer games and films these days.

sue51 · 11/03/2019 15:35

I first read it at 13/14 and have reread it about 6 times now. It's a lot of book to plough through but well worth the time.

YesThisIsMe · 11/03/2019 15:38

DS (14) is going through a Napoleonic phase at the moment. He started with non-fiction, moved onto the Temeraire series, (not 100% historically accurate I grant you: too many dragons), and is now having a go at Hornblower and Patrick O’Brien. I might suggest War And Peace to him - like your son, the worst that can happen is that he tries it and gives up.

I highly recommend the Rod Steiger / Christopher Plummer movie of Waterloo. Completely age-appropriate.

HollowTalk · 11/03/2019 15:46

What about John le Carre books and Frederick Forsythe?

SisyphusDad · 11/03/2019 15:56

Yes, if your DS is into the Napoleonic wars then suggest he tries Arthur Conan Doyle's Brigadier Gerard stories (1 novel, 17 short stories according to Wikipedia). They're great fun.

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